Student Spotlight

The USF Undergraduate Research Scholar Award recognizes a student’s commitment to their development as a researcher during their undergraduate tenure. Below is the list of students who have received this honor.

  • Jaidon Angel, Communication Science and Disorders
  • Lena Bayyat, Communication Science and Disorders
  • Jade Brown, Communication Science and Disorders
  • Samantha Deveaux, Health Sciences
  • Iman Elkolalli, Communication Science and Disorders
  • Christine Grossman, Psychology
  • Jacqueline Houston, Social Work
  • Jessica O'Reilly, Communication Science and Disorders
  • Mackenzie Osborne, Psychology
  • Perdita Samuel-Lopez, Communication Science and Disorders
  • Shanon Rego, Cell and Molecular Biology
  • Evelyn Spiller, Public Health
  • Cindy Yang, Biomedical Science and Anthropology

2022 Undergraduate Research Conference

Select categories below to see the names, research titles, and abstracts of the 2022 USF Undergraduate Research Conference award winners.

Audience Choice Award Sarasota-Manatee Research Showcase

Ryan Sampson – Biology, College of Arts and Sciences

Title: Observation of Commensal Frequency of Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) Burrows at the University of South Florida

The gopher tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus, is a federally threatened species that is found across the Southeast U.S., including the upland scrub habitats of Florida such as the protected six-acre area located at the campus of USF Sarasota-Manatee. The gopher tortoise is a burrowing species which provides shelter and other resources for numerous commensal species with their burrows. This study focuses on the commensal species involved with the gopher tortoise burrows by using wildlife cameras to capture and document commensal activity in and around the gopher tortoise burrow.

Honorable Mention: Angela Perez Cruz – Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences

Title: How Poor Self-Perception Feeds into Harmful Self-Handicapping Behaviors

Although humans have always suffered from self-handicapping behaviors, they have not always been properly understood. There are countless studies about how self-handicapping behaviors affect productivity (both in the workplace and in school), the factors that contribute to self-handicapping behaviors, as well as the possible solutions to such an inescapable blight. This paper aims to explore some of the many factors that contribute to the prevalence of self-handicapping behaviors, particularly in an advanced academic context, and how they can be evaded in favor of academic success. The central claim of this paper is that poor self-perception of one’s intelligence, ability to self-regulate, and self-efficacy (among other facets of one’s productivity or perceived academic value) will result in an increased reliance on self-handicapping behaviors as a means to avoid or stall confronting one’s perceived deficits. Towards the end of this paper, there will be alternative mindsets presented that could resolve issues of poor self-perception by shifting the focus from a student’s intelligence or academic performance to their intellectual journey as a learner rather than a letter grade as well as further research proposals.

Audience Choice Award St. Petersburg Research Showcase

Kacy Cartmell – School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies

Title: A Tragedy of Errors: The United States and the 1964 Election in British Guiana

By analyzing the more than 300 recently declassified U.S. and British documents, this paper will focus on a little know joint U.S.-U.K. covert regime change operation: the British Guiana elections of 1964 that removed Cheddi Jagan from power. This paper will show U.S. and British motivations in this affair and illustrate the various covert tools utilized in this campaign. Furthermore, the paper will clarify some of the debates surrounding the most controversial parts of this covert regime change operation, including: did the U.S. support the use of terrorism and exacerbate racial divisions in British Guiana in order to make it more likely that Cheddi Jagan would lose his reelection bid in 1964?

Audience Choice Award Tampa Research Showcase

Lena Bayyat - Language, Speech, & Hearing Sciences, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences; Jade Brown – Language, Speech, & Hearing Sciences, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences; and Georgia Cox – Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences

Title: The Relationship Between the Perceptual Accessibility of Vocabulary and K-3 Students’ Narrative and Expository Language.

To ensure that children are exposed to an appropriate amount of academic language, designers of educational vocabulary interventions work to select the proper vocabulary to teach in education programs. Determining the perceptual accessibility of words can aid in the selection of vocabulary that should be taught in schools. One method to determine word difficulty is to assign ratings of perceptual accessibility using a researcher-developed tool, the Perceptual Accessibility Continuum (PAC; Hadley et al., 2021). Perceptual accessibility refers to the degree to which words have shape (Diesendruck & Bloom, 2003), imageability (Ma et al., 2009), and concreteness (Brysbaert, 2014; Andrews et al., 2009). For this study, we used vocabulary lists created by extracting words from expository and narrative language samples collected directly from students in grades K-3. We then scored each word using the PAC scoring rubric, assigning values to each word based on its shape, imageability, and concreteness. After each word was scored, we assessed the degree to which word difficulty ratings were related to grade-level use and language task (i.e., expository and narrative). Correlations and significance of interactions will be reported in our final results.

Honorable Mention: Rachel Washburn – Microbiology, College of Arts and Sciences

Title: A structure and function analysis of the RNA polymerase delta subunit in Staphylococcus aureus

In Gram-positive bacteria, transcription is carried out by DNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RNAP), which is composed of four core subunits, α2, β, and β’, and the accessory subunits ω, ε, and δ, or RpoE. Our lab previously showed that the loss of rpoE resulted in reduced expression of virulence factor gene expression as well as decreased abundance of virulence proteins in the human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. Structurally, RpoE harbors a putative helix-turn-helix DNA binding motif that is highly conserved amongst other Gram-positive bacteria and an intrinsically disordered C-terminal tail. To determine how RpoE contributes to virulence factor gene expression in S. aureus, we created an alanine substitution screening library to determine which amino acid residues are essential for δ’s function. We show that mutating 28 amino acids within δ’s highly conserved N-terminus resulted in reduced proteolytic activity indicating that these residues are essential for function. RpoE pull-down assays further revealed that of these 28 amino acid residues, only 17 are essential for RpoE-RNAP interactions. Notably, single amino acid mutations within the RpoE C-terminal tail did not affect δ’s function. Collectively, our data indicates that while the S. aureus RpoE N-terminal domain is essential for RNAP binding, this domain may also play a role in promoter selectivity for RNAP as helix-turn-helix DNA binding motifs are primarily found in DNA binding proteins. In summary, our data indicates that RpoE plays a major role in regulating virulence factor gene expression in S. aureus.

OneUSF General Disciplinary Awards - Health Sciences

Rachel Kline – Nursing, College of Nursing (Honors)

Title: Homeland Security in a Clinical Setting 

Many threats exist in the clinical setting, a place primarily known for healing and restoring health. The wide range of threats include cybersecurity risks, natural disasters, physical or verbal violence, bioterrorism threats, and diseases that have the potential to cause an epidemic or pandemic. In the process of writing this paper, I reviewed various articles from sources which ranged from news articles to research journals. I began with reviewing research articles to learn about the specific disaster mitigation policies in place and then moved to news articles to show how these policies, or failure of these policies, impacts everyday life. I feel that this is an important topic to discuss because it is not widely discussed in the medical community. We practice with the guidelines and security measures in place, but often do not look at the entire system outside of the role that the individual provider plays. As a practicing healthcare professional, it is paramount to understand the origin and modification of the safety measures that are in place. This literature review explores each of these security threats and discusses measures or policies in place to mitigate these threats while protecting the safety of healthcare workers, hospital staff, patients, and visitors alike.

Honorable Mention: Vrunda Patel – Biomedical Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences (Honors)

Title: Creating Eye Health Awareness in Students: Developing a Teaching Curriculum and Educating Elementary School Children

Our eyes play an essential role in helping us perceive the world around us. The eyes are the window to our bodily health and eye exams can reveal various health conditions. Due to the changes in children’s lifestyles, eye conditions, such as nearsightedness and eye discomfort are becoming more prevalent. Vision is significantly associated with academic success as children need many vision skills to read and learn effectively. Consequently, it is important for us to start taking care of our eyes at a young age and practice good eye health to optimize the function of our eyes in the long run. This project aims to educate children about eye health by utilizing appealing, informative, and impactful teaching material. The information learned from the critical literature review was condensed into a child friendly presentation and the students were taught the importance of the eyes, structure of the eyes, and good eye health practices. The students were extremely interested asking numerous questions after each slide and were very responsive to the activities. It is evident that there is a need and a want for increased eye health awareness, and we must find more ways to deliver. This project to raise eye health awareness among elementary school students not only encourages them to practice good eye health and increases the chances of implementation as they grow older, but it also helps to increases their health literacy resulting in more competence in health decision making and improved health outcomes in the future.

OneUSF General Disciplinary Awards - Social Sciences

Evelyn Spiller – Public Health, College of Public Health

Title: Development of Social Media Nutrition Intervention Components: Perspectives from a Narrative Literature Review on a Global Outlook of Problematic Mealtime Behaviors in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

It has been estimated that about 1 in 160 children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) globally. However, this estimate excludes the unknown prevalence from many low-and-middle-income countries where ASD in children remains understudied. Young children with ASD may demonstrate adverse mealtime behaviors stemming from sensory sensitivity, neophobia, or opposition to the general appearance of certain foods. These qualities can have lasting impacts on their food intake and subsequently affect the body weight and nutritional status of these children. As obesity and nutritional deficiencies have become a growing concern among children with ASD in countries around the world, new literature on this subject has begun to emerge. This study aimed to conduct a narrative review of empirical literature published over the last 10 years on problematic mealtime and eating behaviors in children with ASD from various countries. PubMed and Web of Science were used with a combination of search-terms including ‘autism*’, ‘mealtime behaviors’, ‘children’, and ‘nutrition’. There were 20 articles identified discussing the mealtime challenges experienced by parents and how food selectivity can influence the behavior of children with ASD. Our findings highlighted the unmet need of data from underdeveloped countries. Additionally, the developmental process of social media components to supplement a nutrition intervention, the Autism Eats, for children with ASD, is described. Intervention materials and external resources for parents of children with ASD have been identified and tested on a private social media platform.

Honorable Mention: Zoe Ritchotte – Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences

Title: Does Duration of Valenced Experiences Impact Affective and Evaluative Reactions?

The goal of this study is to understand how duration of positive and negative experiences can influence predicted emotions (i.e., affect) and evaluations of those experiences. The current research explores the association between the valence (i.e., positive or negative) of experiences, affect, and decision making by testing (1) whether affective feelings predict how much one is willing to pay to experience positive or avoid negative hypothetical situations and (2) whether longer durations of positive experiences are treated differently than longer durations of negative experiences. The satiation-escalation hypothesis postulates that subjective responses to positive experiences tend to peak and plateau as positive experiences accumulate, whereas subjective responses to negative experiences tend to intensify as negative experiences accumulate. Study participants were randomly assigned to the positive or negative condition of an online experiment involving descriptions of eight scenarios presented in seven durations (e.g., spending 3 hours at a theme park). After each scenario, participants reported how much they would be willing to pay to engage in or avoid the experience, as well as rating how happy or upset they would feel about spending the time in that scenario. Results explore the strength of the relationship between affect and willingness to pay. They also show whether responses to positive events level off or satiate at longer durations and whether responses to negative events grow stronger or escalate at longer durations. The results will call attention to how one type of valence asymmetry can impact affective and evaluative reactions to experiences.

OneUSF General Disciplinary Awards –Interdisciplinary

Nidhi Bangalore – Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences (Honors) and Lina Elessawy – Cell and Molecular Biology, College of Arts and Sciences

Title: Novel L-Ergothioneine Treatments with Antioxidant/Anti Inflammatory Effects Improve Hearing in Geriatric Male Mice in CBA/CaJ Mice

Presbycusis, also known as age-related hearing loss, is gradual hearing loss that occurs as people grow older. There are many causes of age-related hearing loss, but one cause includes cochlear oxidative stress. Free radicals of oxygen or reactive oxygen species accumulate in the ear as a byproduct of many biochemical pathways. The buildup of byproducts causes oxidative stress on the cochlea, resulting in damages. Antioxidants are substances that neutralize the free radicals that cause oxidative stress. L-Ergothioneine is a naturally derived antioxidant and shows therapeutic potential in many health issues regarding oxidative stress, including Alzheimer’s disease, liver damage, and heart disease. A study was designed to determine if the naturally derived anti-inflammatory antioxidant L-ergothioneine can be used to prevent presbycusis. The male and female CBA/Caj mice were divided into three groups for testing: control, low-dose (35mg/kg), and high-dose (70mg/kg). Hearing tests using ABRs were performed on a monthly basis over six months after the initial baseline measurement. The data was then analyzed by determining the threshold at each frequency and the intensity of wave I that reflects the response of the cochlear nerve. After baseline testing, males’ hearing improved in ways that varied by dosage, whereas females’ hearing did not improve and may have worsened. This suggests that EGT may have a future as an ARHL progression treatment derived from nature.

Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research

Faculty Award: Joseph Walton, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders andS chool of Aging Studies, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences

Honorable Mention: Stephanie Carey, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering

Graduate/Professional Student Award: Mark Bauer Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Medical Engineering, College of Engineering and the Morsani College of Medicine

Honorable Mention: Megan Kirby, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Child and Family Studies, College of Behavioral & Community Sciences